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Three Ways Health Clubs Can Get Referrals without Asking for Referrals

Asking for referrals from members and clients before they have experienced your facility and services may show a lack in confidence that you will provide a high-enough quality of experience after they are a member to refer their friends. 

Typically, three types of people sit down for a gym sales consultation:

  1. Seekers: curious about health, fitness and living better
  2. Starters: new to a journey of living fit and healthy
  3. Returners: some training experience but have been away for a while.

At the close of the first sale, most new clients are excited about what the future will hold. They are filled with hope that this time:

  • It will be different than the last four times they joined a gym
  • They will stick with a routine and wake up early four days a week
  • They will burn the excess baby weight, even though their youngest is 5 years old
  • They will regain their youth and stop eating all the processed fake food.

At this point of the initial sale, we often go for the jugular by asking for referrals.

We are taught to bribe, sorry, offer new members a gift, such as a coupon, gym bag or free training session, in return for a few names. When we do this, we are trying to catch them in the moment of impulse when they are excited about the quest they are about to embark on but before they have even trained with us one time.  

We’re also taught slick, used car salesman scripts, such as:

  • The simple one: “Why don’t we add your spouse for only $X per month?”
  • Bait and hook: “You’ll get great results, especially if you have a partner to work out with.”
  • Buddy workout: “Who have you discussed getting fit with lately?”

Has anyone stopped to ask:

  • Does this new client really know, like and trust us yet?
  • Have they had enough time to develop a relationship with us so they know which one of their friends would truly enjoy training at our facility?
  • Are we trying to get referrals now because we know that we don’t take care of them after the initial trial period is over so they'll never give us referrals later?

Redefining the Referral Cycle

The primary win, vision, mission or whatever we want to call it for new clients is simply this: To create a training experience that leads people to want to come back and train again.

A good measure of this is:

  • Clients come back
  • Clients take the next step to eating and sleeping better
  • Clients invite others to come and experience our facility

People talk about experiences. They become raving fans of the experience. They invite others to join in for the experience. They don't come because we cold call them or hand out a free week's pass.

Our drive to get referrals should come from three ways:

  1. Taking care of our clients long after the initial sale has closed.
  2. Creating irresistible experiences that meet clients' basic needs in creative ways.
  3. Delivering on your brand promises every session that clients have from one to 150.

When people are convinced you want something for them rather than something from them, they are more likely to encourage their friends and family to come and experience a facility that’s anything but average.

Create experiences. Build relationships. Repeat daily. Never ask for referrals again. 


Brent Gallagher, MSS, CSCS, ACSM, is co-owner of Avenu Fitness, a 4,500-square-foot personal training studio in Houston. He has built a brand measuring the quality of life one can live, not just measuring biceps and waistlines. Gallagher invests time coaching high-performing leaders and challenging fitness business operators to come to blows with the status quo by redefining what’s possible for the communities they serve. Avenu Fitness offers 30-minute training programs and a teaching kitchen for nutrition health.

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